Northwestern’s Active Learning Community of Practice

During the 2018 winter quarter, a new community emerged at Northwestern to focus on active learning principles. With a membership consisting of instructors who implement and innovate in active and collaborative learning spaces and sponsorship by Northwestern IT, the Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching, and the Office of the Provost, the Active Learning Community of Practice (ALCOP) aims to become a vital cornerstone of the conversation around teaching and learning at the University.

For those who aren't familiar with the term, "active learning" is a broad area of practice that provides opportunities to enhance student learning at all levels. Classic examples include think-pair share, gallery walk, in class group work, and project and team-based learning.

The Community

The ALCOP is a community-driven initiative. Members both pick the session topics and run the meetings themselves, providing intellectual and operational support towards active learning initiatives around campus. As more active learning projects or pilots emerge, ALCOP hopes to bring together key stakeholders to explore how these initiatives can be expanded.

With three community meet-ups already hosted, this new community has already grown to nearly twenty-five faculty and staff members representing a majority of the schools at Northwestern. Initial sessions included lively discussions around the various definitions of active learning, along with an in-depth look at how it is already incorporated throughout the University. Meetings have also featured active learning activities to engage the community with breakout groups designed to brainstormed ways their departments could implement similar strategies and what challenges they might encounter. 

Student Panel

At the most recent ALCOP meet-up, members hosted a student panel made up of undergraduates at Northwestern. Karen Springen, lecturer and Journalism Residency Director at Medill moderated the session. The students touched on their own learning experiences here at Northwestern, including instances of active learning they have either enjoyed or struggled with.

The session provided an opportunity for in-depth conversation in which faculty and students could each share positive active learning experiences and consider future ways in which these strategies could be incorporated at Northwestern. When asked about their suggestions for the use of active learning techniques to improve their classroom experience, the student panel offered up several suggestions, including:

  • More student-to-student interaction during class time
  • Incorporating connections between class material and contemporary or current events in lectures and discussion
  • Breaking up longer classes with more small group activites 
  • Dedicating portions of in-person class time for homework or group work 
  • Organizing Canvas sites to more align with the experience of the class

Get Involved

The Active Learning Community of Practice is looking for individuals willing and eager to expand their current teaching practices. It is open to all instructors and instructor-supporting staff members at Northwestern.

If you are interested in learning more, attending a meeting, or joining the group, please email Jonathan Diehl, Senior Blended Specialist, Teaching & Learning Technologies, Northwestern IT at